I look to you as a coneflower looks
and the rest of me droops off
This is how the rich will die:
One by one, each petal stripped
so their center quivers naked in the wind.
Stem stomped sideways by a child running
through. Disintegrating away from view.
At the foot of my bed, a tea towel hangs
like a small tapestry
with native prairie wildflowers printed
and their colloquial names printed below.
It was a gift, given that I may not forget
my humble Midwestern roots.
Each night I dream as I sleep beneath it
that I am walking in the prairie,
bristly flowers untying the laces of my shoes,
making me stumble, fall, then lying
face-up in the tall grass so I can see the sky
but it can’t see me. This is my place in the world.
This is my place in the world:
I pour still and sparkling water into glasses
for men in tweed coats early mornings
in the West Village.
I teach the English language to immigrant children.
I collect leisure
littered about me as I go about my week
and then dump it
into my second floor apartment on Sundays
to write poems in it.
There are many above me
and many below me here; I levitate day and night.
This morning I spilled water as I poured it
for a man with long, gelled hair
who laughed and said,
did they teach you that in waitress school?
I wanted to tell him
I went to school to study poetry, not waitressing.
It made me angry
how angry it made me.
I wiped the water from his table.
I say I want
my poems to rise
from the soot
of human life
but really I want
them to fall
from higher places
where it is quiet
and the light is soft.
Now it is winter and I set the tables at work
with cut tulips in milk carafes,
whispering to them as the sun rises.
Every four days, we change the flowers
so the customers will not see them wilting
in their own slime.
Aside from slime,
tulips leave little behind when their petals fall,
just a pea-
sized ball of pollen you can crush with your fingers,
brush onto your skin like yellow chalk
while people eat their eggs,
say it is egg-yolk, say it is orange juice,
say you are performing, a rising
This is how the flowers rise:
Nestled between yellow grasses with roots
ten times the length of their bodies.
red fires will sweep through the prairie
and leave it blackened.
Grass roots will strengthen
beneath the charred surface.
New flowers will spring from the soot
for a season.
The coneflower will throw its petals
back like the arms of a dancer
as it reaches up through June,
glorious in July, a dry brown cone
that cuts the fingers
It will live for months without its petals.
The rich man should take pride in his low position
because he will pass away like a wildflower
Letter from N.Y.
The flocks left school at 2:15 today and, with their parents, are chirping about me as I eat my strawberries. Everything is expensive here but strawberries; they sit on the sidewalks for a dollar a carton! I confess I miss my kitchen utensils, the rose tin of slotted spoons, the blue wooden spatula. It is almost winter here and I am still a traveler.
My first dream since arriving in the city: I’m attempting to geo-locate my thoughts on a touch screen, and I’m still unemployed. My second dream: I’m in the Times Square terminal, the only available path leads to the Southern Mississippi, angels wave to me on my way to the coast and I pretend to recognize them.
Every day I walk under the tracks and pass townhouses with fingernail ferns where Greek men smoke their afternoon cigarettes. I imagine fitting my world into one of those townhouses, complete with a sun-soaked circle table, where I may rise, write, cook for you. I suspect, as I told you, people fall in love here to make a townhouse out of a person, anything to shrink the deep sea of a day into comfortable cycle: rise, write, cook for you, inhabit space as small as a body
you know my fantasy:
Letter from my Parent’s House
I am washing my face with a silver-laced toilette instead of soap. My mother subscribed to sell rectangular boxes of silver-laced Norwegian rags, and then bought them all from herself. It was just the two of us at the exclusive box-opening party. I wore my new apron and a shirt that showed the grass freshly tattooed along my spine, and we dusted the perched house with the silver rags wound round our identical hands.
She also brought me to an organic hairdresser, which I found less poetic. The organic hairdresser bowed over me, crow-footed, and told me about my chemicals. Not about my everything (because everything is chemical) but about my dirty soaps, Sulfates, Parabens, my mother’s cholesterol, gathering at my pores like spittle downstream.
The hairdresser liked my prairie grass, too. I don’t know why, but I told her the story where I panic the night I get it, lying on your floor, thinking: I don’t have a spine, I don’t have a spine and: Will my tattoo artist have copy write over my corpse? She laughed the way a tube of mustard squirts when almost empty. I feel alone.
Letter from the Valley
The river is like that / a blind familiar, wrote someone in a poem I read somewhere.
I have let this one rush over my toes so consistently I think they are getting smaller. It burns you cold, so every step feels like the one before, as if you don’t have feet, or ground. Tomorrow I will search for my cells downstream.
I repeat to myself the story where you declare a woman dead at work, who’s been almost dead so long there’s nothing to tell you she’s alive, but you declare it, feel her leave like you feel white noise leave. See, it was a soul, you said. Braking habit,
just like that.
What else? The elk have begun to mate and their calls sound like sheathing swords.
Every afternoon I call back to them with my own blade tongue from the boulders that hold rainwater in their craters, tell them all I tell you, but sharper.
The body will form to any rock’s surface if you lay it facedown, softness- down,
but we never are quick to volunteer this rest.
Sarabeth Weszely‘s work enjoys the space between quirky word play (a sort of speaking in tongues) and soulful lament. She writes for and teaches with various non-profits, and her work has been published in Earthwords, Mockingbird, and a chapbook I talk to God out loud and we call each other Babe.